This is a question that has been on my mind for a while now. Our church has had a big campaign on that they are calling Abundant Blessings. I totally understand what they are trying to do but it has rubbed me the wrong way since it began back in April. The overall message is that we have been so richly blessed by God, we need to give back to Him from the riches with which we have been blessed - not just gifts of material wealth but of time and talents, as well. That part of the message doesn't bother me - of course, as Christians, we are stewards of the things God has given us and we need to use them to His glory. My stumbling block is the part of the message that we need to give it back "to His church".
When I hear this message, I hear, very definitely, to THIS church, this congregation. I sometimes feel as if it gives carte blanche for endless requests and I find myself resisting that. I think that anyone would tell you that I am quick to step up when there is need, including at church. I think my resentment comes into it a bit when I feel like it's just one more thing on my plate and that the expectation is that this will come before everything else, because its being church somehow makes it more important than anything else. If I were not giving in other ways and other places, these demands would be entirely understandable but I don't just give in one place.
That led me to pondering the question "What is God's church?" and my understanding goes WAY beyond the individual congregation or denomination. For me, the CHURCH is any place that two people are together in His name so that means that, when I organize meals to support our friends whose on is having surgery, that is my giving to the church. When I bake every week for the last two years for Dh's weekly men's meeting, I am giving to the church. When I send a message of care to someone from my husband's church in which he grew up, that's part of the church, too. I don't pretend that I give anywhere near enough but I do try and extend that giving anywhere that I can - to the school at which I work, to our neighbours, to the homeless, to people around me who are going through a rough time. To me, that is church, too. And, for that matter, church is my immediate and extended family. It's the same reason that I believe so firmly that we Christians need to be out in the world, not just sitting back in our own little enclaves, living with neighbours who are like us, sending our children to little Christian schools and only spending time in places with people like us. We need to be the present church in our very present and suffering world.
Now, that being said, I do think my church does a great job of "being church" in many different ways. One thing they have started is P,B and J, (which stands for potluck, bonfire and Jesus). It's a monthly get together at which we have a casual dinner, we go outside and "be" together and then have a bonfire, roast marshmallows and there is a kind of small reflection. The part that is the most moving to me is that there is a small group of migrant workers from Jamaica who have started to come. R, one of the workers, is a pastor back home and he has spoken and sung for us at both of the last two get togethers. I found it profoundly moving last night to hear someone who is so far away from his family, working SO hard, preaching to us about seeing that we can praise God even in the hard times, like Ruth and Naomi. To me, THAT is church - being together as believers, sharing our stories and the fruits of our tables. It doesn't matter whether he is from "our" church or not and the people at our church, rather than looking down on these, some would say, rather insignificant people, are thrilled to have them there and we pile their plates high and try to make them feel as welcome as we can.
To me, THAT is what it means to be church and I will happily give to that in any way that I can.